When clients are familiar with the feelings of resentment and frustration at not feeling important in their relationships; their relationships which they prioritise and value, we often discuss a Transactional Analysis (TA) theory of drivers and injunctions.
Often I encounter people that say things similar to ‘I go above and beyond for him/her but will they do the same for me; no’, ‘I just can’t say no, even though I want to’, ‘people call me the fixer’. On further discussion it goes in the direction of their earlier relationships as children and how they found creative strategies to getting their needs met in these relationships; those creative strategies that were essential as a child since they didn’t have adult capacity to do get their needs met any other way, creative strategies that are no longer needed in adulthood, but are still very present, and tend to get in the way of feeling as though the relationship is balance.
Lets take little Lizzy, she’s 7 and the eldest of 3, she often is spoken of as the quiet one, no bother, really helpful and does well at school. In therapy, Lizzy now 35, she speaks of her relationship with her siblings and the high expectations from her parents to set the example to the younger ones, to be a good girl as Mum struggled to cope, she was rewarded for being good and helpful and felt bad if she was naughty and saw Mum stressed and shouting; when Dad came home from work he would raise his voice to Lizzy and say that ‘Mum doesn’t need this, she has enough on her plate with the twins’. Lizzy’s Dad wasn’t home much and he focused on Lizzy’s academic abilities, he would often spend 1:1 time with her doing homework, he would praise her after speaking to her teacher and hearing how she is one of the top in her class; he would be playful with her saying that he was sure she could be the top of the class if she really tried. Lizzy went to therapy to address the familiar feeling of being unheard and at times, unseen in her friendships and relationships. She describes herself as very loyal and would do anything for anybody though she doesn’t receive this back and will not ask for help.
Can you see how Lizzy may have developed a way to survive (get her needs met) in a family like I described and how this has filtered out into her adult relationships? As children we develop our own individual script made of decisions about ourselves, others and the world and these decisions derive from a combination of instructions and suggestions, experiences and our perception of these. Still using Lizzy as an example, in comparison to Mum whose day is very busy, the twins who need constant attention and Dad who is treat like a King when he is home, she may have decided that to survive in her house she shouldn’t: feel, be important, be herself, be happy, be a child, and belong. They’re really sad when we put them into context of a small 7 year old girl and it is important to say that these decisions are generally made out of awareness of the child and of the care givers. For a little girl to have all those don’ts, called injunctions in TA theory, she needs some drivers to keep her functioning and feeling OK, so she may have decided that to counteract all the don’ts she must: be perfect, be strong, please others and hurry up; when she does these, she receives love, praise, gifts and feels OK – not bad. In therapy the links will be made with the therapist, of how these creative ways to survive as a child now mean that she is still allowing herself to be discounted in relationships, she would gain awareness of what her child fantasy has been if she didn’t maintain her drivers and injunctions and she would use her adult capacity to consider her here-and-now reality in assessing if her relationships really would all fail if she were to allow herself to be important, counted and to have a voice.
I love how accessible TA theory is for clients and I think it’s an honour to be involved in this kind of journey; driver and injunction theory in the therapy room, can be so freeing and life changing. I don’t want to discount how emotionally uncomfortable it can be to address these kind of things but I can honestly say that I have not met 1 person that has regretted looking at their script in a way that I have described here. With practice of living in the here-and-now, using adult capacity to problem solve instead of out-of-date child strategies, there is a whole new existence waiting to be had; one where you count, matter, have a say, can say no and can enjoy without the fear.
There’s a diagram here that illustrates drivers and injunctions, though different to the example I’ve discussed. You can see that messages come from either both or one of the parents, depending on the dynamics of the family. Each person has a Parent, Adult and Child ego state and function from either one at any given time.